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Caught off guard

Feb 15,2017
The agriculture ministry has identified the type-O strain of foot-and-mouth disease that hit the farms of Boeun of North Chungcheong and Jeongup of North Jeolla as the same that sprouted in Bangladesh in 2015 and Russia in 2016. The ministry also said that another A-type discovered in a dairy farm in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi, was the same virus strain found in Vietnam last year. In short, the disease was imported and, therefore, can be kept at bay through border and migration quarantines.

Since the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2000, the government mostly had been responding with immediate and aftermath actions through vaccinations, culling, burials and farm subsidies. It has spent 3.3 trillion won ($2.9 billion) on the issue and yet the winter virus upsets livestock farms every winter.

The air and sea ports and the migration routes of livestock must be thoroughly scrutinized and quarantined so that the virus cannot enter.

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, Korea is geographically encircled by countries with frequent foot-and-mouth contagions like Mongolia, Russia, China and Taiwan. Hundreds of people travel to these nations and a great number of migrant workers are employed in local farms. Yet there are not guidelines and regulations on farm workers and foreign travelers’ access to farms.

Danish farms famous for dairy production follow their government’s strict guidelines. They only allow their guests and staff to enter their farms 48 hours after they come home from overseas trips. Livestock imported from overseas do not mix with domestic breeds for a certain period of time. It is how the country has prevented foot-and-mouth disease for 30 years.

Korea also must establish close networks with foreign countries to fight the contagious disease. The United States conducts joint research with neighbor countries to store vaccines and diseases. The British and Dutch have developed vaccines tailored for their livestock breed and Japan is meticulous in quarantines. Seoul authorities must ask themselves why they are losing their battle with foot-and-mouth disease annually despite spending billions of dollars to come up with a fundamental solution.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 14, Page 30